I watched the inhuman tattoo creature for several hours, switching the graviscope back frequently to view my own surroundings. I never saw anyone watching me, but after a while my tattoo kitty seemed to be trying to warn me about something. I got that same feeling as before, kind of an unfocused awareness that I was not alone, but when I investigated, both physically and through the graviscope, I saw nothing.
Eventually, I went back to watching the tattoo guy, and only a few minutes later he left the shop. He flagged down a taxi and headed south, then west, then south again. He was on a freeway, and from his directions it would probably be 280. Eventually, I started taking way points (just hit the "w" on the keyboard) so that I could reproduce his path later.
The cab stopped near the ocean at the top of the coastal cliffs. I followed the creature down a long set of stairs to a deserted beach, and then along the beach. After a lengthy walk along the beach, my quarry passed into a cleft in the rocks leading to a winding little canyon. He worked his way up the canyon to another long set of steps. He climbed these steps to the top of the cliffs, then traveled in-land for a few hundred yards, and finally came to a mansion. Another inhuman creature opened the front door as he approached, and the tattoo creature was ushered in to meet yet another nonhuman. The two creatures conferred for a short time and then the tattoo creature left the way he had come.
So why did the creature take such a round-about way to and from the mansion? Why not take a cab straight there? A little investigation revealed the answer: the mansion was not reachable by road. In fact, it was in a state park off Daly City where there should be no homes at all. I wondered if the house was really that inaccessible or if it was hidden by one of those enclouding spells. Either way, it was something worth seeing. And there wasn't much daylight left, so I had to get going.
I went to collect a few things. The night vision binoculars were illegal in California, but probably not as illegal as the Gatling gun when the firing motor was attached. The GPS unit was legal. The survival knife was legal, but the six-inch switchblade was questionable. The climbing equipment was legal. The burglary tools were illegal since I'm not a licensed lock-smith. The black jumpsuit was legal. The portable burst-microwave emitter was not specifically illegal, but since its only possible use was to destroy electronic equipment like burglar alarm sensors, I think they could get me on some charge like "intending to vandalize". And to tell you the truth, I'm not sure about the bugging devices. They're probably legal unless you use them illegally like I was planning to do.
Fortunately, I had all of this on hand. It's kind of a hobby.
You would be surprised at how hard it is to get data off of an old PC onto a new one. There was no network connection and the old PC only had 5.25 inch floppy drives. Where was I going to find a computer that could read a floppy drive? After spending too long trying to figure out a way to avoid the work, I finally had to copy the way points by hand into my notebook. I only copied the last ten.
As I drove to Daly City, I thought about how to approach the house. Should I follow the route of the creature along the beech or just try to go straight there from the nearest parking spot? If it had been earlier in the day, I probably would have tried to find my own way to the house, but you never know what kind of obstacles you are going to encounter going over-land.
The parking lot where the cab had dropped Mr. Inhuman Tattoo Guy was deserted but it was still daylight so I had to make some compromises in equipment; instead of a pack, I wore my trench coat and tried to cram as much stuff as I could in the pockets and on my web belt.
I paused at the top of the bluff, taking in the smell of salt water and the crash of the waves. Below was the gray-green sea with white waves pounding endlessly at the shore, not what you would call a beautiful color, but more dramatic and majestic for that. Every time I saw this sight I told myself that I should get over to the coast more often, but I just never got around to it.
The concrete steps were old and cracked, the handrails were rusted, and the ground had washed out from under the steps in places to a dangerous degree, all of which made for an adventurous descent. The steps ended a good six feet above the beach, a legacy of the recent storm which had washed away the sand, and I had to carefully pick my way down the rocks to the sand.
When you walk along the beach, you have to decide between walking in loose dry sand, which takes a lot of energy, or walking near the water, which risks getting your feet wet from a big wave. I was planning to be out all night in the shoes I was wearing, so I opted to avoid the risk.
As I walked along the beach, I noticed how the sand came in varieties. Here it was fine and gray; there it was coarse and almost black; here it was fine and had a yellowish tinge; there it was actually more gravel than sand. What acted to sort the sand into varieties instead of mixing all together? I speculated that it was because the sand in a particular area came from the nearest cliffs.
After I thought of this, I started paying attention to the rock of the cliffs and the sand types, and sure enough, there seemed to be a correlation between rock types and sand types. With one exception, the sand was colored like the nearby cliffs, but shifted a bit to the north. Also, the larger-grained sands seem to go with harder rocks. The exception in color was that red cliffs seemed to produce black sand. A counter-example to my theory? Not necessarily. Maybe the cliffs contained red iron oxide that was changed to black iron oxide by the salt water. It was an interesting idea. I decided to try to find a book on beach geology if I survived the night.
Eventually I came to the cleft where the creature had entered. It was only three or four feet wide, a nearly vertical break in the cliffs like a gateway in an immense wall. A small stream bubbled happily from the opening, pouring down onto the beach in a tiny waterfall from a ledge only a few feet high. The enthusiastic little stream struggled across the beach toward the ocean but, injured and weakened from its fall, it was dragged down into the sand before it had gone more than ten feet.
I peered through the opening to see a little hidden canyon open out on the other side like a lost world. From the scattered refuse along the steam, I deduced that this lost world was were old tires, plastic bags, and broken pieces of concrete go to die. Seeing the trash changed my perspective of the stream from a happy little brook to a drainage ditch. That's what it was, of course.
It wasn't easy to scramble up the ledge without getting wet but I managed. And then I had to scramble some more, hopping from rock to rock, occasionally climbing a bit up a sloping wall. I wondered how the creature had made this trip look so effortless.
A little ways in and I saw the source of the stream: a storm drain culvert, a big concrete cylinder poking from the top of the cliff and spurting it's road trash down into the canyon in a filthy waterfall. Yuck. Well, that was more or less my destination, the back of the canyon. Oddly though, I couldn't see the stairs and I should be able to see them from here. Probably more of that enclouding thing, and I had been counting on my tattoo to make me immune.
At one point, the little stream ran through an actual tunnel of rock. It looked like it would be impossible to get through that tunnel with dry feet, but climbing over would have been extremely difficult. Luckily, I found an old board and was able to fashion a bridge of sorts to get through the tunnel.
When I came out the other side, I could see the stairs where I had expected them before. Was the anti-enclouding power limited by distance? A bit more hopping across rocks and I was at the stairs. They were made of some kind of smooth stone --I'd never seen anything like it-- and there was no hand rail. It was much hotter at this end of the canyon, so before I had climbed halfway up, I had to remove my trench coat, folding up the Gatling gun inside. The sky above was painted red by the setting sun --as red as I had ever seen it.
As I was wondering at this, I realized that something else was wrong: the water wasn't coming from a culvert any more; it was pouring naturally over the cliff. Was the culvert not visible from here? It ought to be; it had stuck out quite far. When I turned around to get my bearings I received another shock: the canyon had no trash in it. In fact, it had a lot of brush that hadn't been there before, and unless I was seriously confused, the opening was much larger than it had been before, showing a vast panorama of the ocean.
And the sea was red.